Professional Development Opportunities: Southeastern Museums Conference 2015

Rebecca Sailor, Gibbes Curator of Education, and Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration at the Museum, attended the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) in Jacksonville, Florida from October 12 – 14. SEMC is the major regional networking organization for museums and their staff in the southeastern states. Both Zinnia and Rebecca are active members of SEMC, and Zinnia currently serves as an appointed member of the Executive Council and the Annual Meeting Program Committee.

Rebecca Sailor and Zinnia Willits at SEMC 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Rebecca Sailor and Zinnia Willits at SEMC 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.

This year, Zinnia presented on four different panels at the Annual Meeting on topics including successful federal grant applications, museum insurance, and mid-career transitions. Her session entitled How We Did It: Tips and Strategies for Successful Federal Grant Applications was particularly well attended and allowed Zinnia an opportunity to share her story about the Gibbes recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a Council member, Zinnia also participated in a strategic planning workshop related to SEMC’s future growth.

Rebecca was joined by Zinnia, as well as staff from the Columbia Museum of Art and the Booth Western Art Museum for a session entitled Where Did All the Programs Go? The panel focused on the challenges of effective programming when space is limited or restricted, as in the case of a renovation. The Gibbes has made a special effort to keep programming available during our current renovation, while the Columbia Museum of Art is in the preparation stages of its own capital project. The Booth Museum staff shared the experience of providing programming around town in unique venues even before their building opened to the public.

Rebecca also presented with staff from the Cummer Museum of Art and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art on healthcare partnerships with museums. It was a great opportunity to inform participants about the Gibbes Art of Healing program with Roper St. Francis Healthcare, including our hospital lending collection and our public lectures and workshops on the subject. The Reynolda House offers continuing education workshops for healthcare and community service staff. Participants also learned about the partnership between the Cummer and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, offering programs for dementia patients and physician training; the Art Beyond Sight organization; and other special needs programs.

In addition to their presentations, Rebecca and Zinnia attended many other sessions by their peers to learn what others are doing regarding innovation and engagement. A special highlight was the keynote speech by Nick Gray, founder of Museum Hack, which was a great reminder of why museums are awesome and why what we do matters so much (watch it here).

Interning at a Closed Museum

Intern Valerie Coughlin in front of the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Intern Valerie Coughlin in front of the Gibbes Museum of Art.

When I tell people that I am an intern at the Gibbes Museum of Art, I am often met with a confused look and the question: “How can you intern at a closed museum?” While this question is valid I have come to see the Gibbes’ renovation as an added bonus to interning at one of Charleston’s finest museums. As an arts management major at The College of Charleston, I have learned about all types of arts organizations, from well-established ones to completely new. I have learned about the challenges of developing programming from scratch as well as building upon existing programs. As a Public Programs and Special Events intern this fall under Lasley Steever, I have gotten to experience things I have only read about in textbooks. It is one thing to read about board responsibilities, but to see the number of hours and the amount of energy board members put into the Gibbes is something entirely different. As an intern I have learned about every aspect of an event, from artist accommodations to the logistics of securing a venue. But during my time here I have learned much more than how to successfully execute an event.

Insider Art with Andrew Brunk

Brunk Auctions president, Andrew Brunk, spoke to a crowd at the Gibbes Museum’s Insider Art Series.

I have been given the unique experience to be an intern at a museum with a reputation that goes back 150 years but also a museum that is undergoing renovations in more ways than one. Along with the floor to ceiling renovation of the building, the Gibbes is rebranding itself. This includes a new website, a new logo, a new mission statement, all in time for the re-opening this spring. So while I get the benefit of interning at one of Charleston’s most recognized and respected institutions, I also get to see how a museum develops on the ground floor. I have seen how the entire staff is coming together to build a new Gibbes. I have experienced how much planning and attention goes into creating a logo, how many meetings go into designing a website, and how the staff and board spend countless hours working together to discuss their hopes for the future of the Gibbes. I have learned that “Reimagine the Gibbes” is much more than a renovation tagline, it is reflective of what I experience day to day as an intern here. So while yes, I am interning at a closed museum, my time here has been invaluable. I am surrounded by the most talented, passionate, and hardworking staff and I cannot wait to see everything come together this spring when the Gibbes Museum of Art reopens!

Valerie Coughlin, College of Charleston intern and guest blogger

Unlock the Artist Block

One of the quickest ways to get through life’s challenges is to approach them rather than find detours or shortcuts around them. Eventually, the challenge you’ve avoided will have no other way to go but head on. The way we approach our work is for people to feel comfortable with themselves in mind, body, and emotion to face whatever life has to bring them. And if we have not figured it out yet, eventually we will see life will always have challenges. Life without challenges is not real life. The tools you learn with Charleston Wellness Group (CWG) is to support, simple enough, life.

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy
Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is a method based on the individual being influenced by their own inner guidance and wisdom instead of what another “expert” has to say. We have a saying at CWG that “you are your own expert and we get out of your way to trust that expert.” Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy assists individuals in connecting mind and body using embodied movement and mindfulness techniques. The body is a huge part of connecting with the expert in all of us, so we incorporate the body throughout sessions.

Since life is rich with challenges and the goal is not to get rid of them, but to face them, stress is part of the equation. There is such a thing, however, as “good stress.” “Good stress” is the belly motivation that gets you up and out of bed in the morning. “Good stress” can be how you face the challenges rather than avoid. “Good stress” keeps you living life from a more alive and engaged state.

Stress is like a bell curve. You are at risk of either too little or too much. Too little leads to “depressed” state. Too much leads to “burn out” state. What we encourage is for people to become aware of their too little/too much stress-related symptoms and recognize they have a choice with this information. For most who work with us, the first thing that has to happen is they have to realize their relationship to stress. They have to learn what their symptoms are on the bell curve. We are all different. No one person is alike. It is important for individuals to learn about themselves and trust the information their bodies, minds, and feelings are expressing so they can discern and make the right decisions to stay in the optimal state of stress.

Bell curve
Charleston Wellness Group created a program called The Deliberate Method, which combines yoga therapy techniques and self-inquiry with integrative exercises so individuals can actually apply what they learn to their everyday life situations.

The Deliberate Method, is focused on supporting businesses and their employees to mindfully show up to their stress. The material is broken into three methods: Method A- The Skills, Method B- Bridging the Gap Between Body and Mind, and Method C- Living a Deliberate Life. The sections are designed to support thoughtful learning. As we say, “We offer quick information, not a quick fix.” The content, which is audio/video, guided practices, assessments, podcasts, and articles is all less than 10 minutes time commitment. We recognize the power of time and find that unless we can apply what we learn in real time, the value is lost.

Becoming mindful takes patience and continued practice. The practice offered in The Deliberate Method is real-time, life situations rather than pretend. Chances are the skills and lessons, the ah-ha’s and other epiphanies will happen much quicker because they are applied concepts rather than abstract ideas.

Our number one intention is to inspire individuals to want to live a deliberate life, to understand their own true nature, and know they are incredible individuals in a world full of experience. We hope our message and information inspires individuals to want to continue to learn from life and therefore live life fully.

Hallie Buchanan

Hallie Buchanan

Lyn Tally

Lyn Tally

Hallie Buchanan and Lyn Tally, guest bloggers and founders of Charleston Wellness Group and The Deliberate Method

CWG founders, Hallie and Lyn, are offering a workshop, as part of the Gibbes Museum’s Art of Healing series, to help participants “Unlock the Artist Block.” The program will be held on Thursday, November 12, from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Visit our website or contact Amanda Breen at 843-722-2706 x221 to register today.

Many Moving Parts – A Gallerist’s Perspective

[While the Gibbes Museum is closed, we find ourselves aching to interact with real-live art. The pictures online are nice to glance at, but it can’t replace the experience of standing in front of an original work of art and seeing all the nuances of an artist’s hand. On Thursday night, Society 1858 members had the opportunity to visit the studio of artist Tim Hussey as he prepares for a solo exhibition at The George Gallery. Gallery owner Anne Siegfried shares with us what it takes to pull off a successful show.]

Most people would agree that art openings are fun to attend. You can meet with friends, have a glass of wine, and discuss what you like or not like about the art on the walls. If you connect with the art on exhibit you might also have the opportunity to meet the artist. If you are really into the art, you can buy a piece to hang in your home and enjoy forever. But how does the art opening actually happen?

Society 1858 members enjoy a behind-the-scenes peek at Tim Hussey's studio.

Society 1858 members enjoy a behind-the-scenes peek at Tim Hussey’s studio.

It takes a lot of moving parts coming together.

As a gallery owner I consider many things when planning an exhibit, the most important of these things are my clients, show logistics, promotion, and the quality of the art. I need to be confident that my clients will respond to the artist’s work. Does it match what they are looking for? Is the art work unique? Is the price point reasonable? If I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head that I believe will really appreciate the show then I move on to the next step.

The logistics are the boring part. When does the show best fit into the gallery’s calendar? What else is going on in Charleston when I want to have this show, I want to be sure there are not any obvious conflicts. Is there enough time for the artist to complete a full body of work?

The next consideration is promotion. Do I have an appropriate amount of time to get writers interested in the body of work? I’m hosting the event because I feel passionate that the artist has a story to tell. My job is getting that message out there, sometimes even before one painting has been completed. But through communicating with my artists and visiting their studios I get to understand what is motivating them, why this collection of work is important, and what the message will be once it’s hung on the walls.

The most exciting part of the exhibit for me is when I see the work in person for the first time, which is when the wheels in my head really start turning. I trust in myself and my artist that the quality of the work is up to or exceeds our standards. So far, my artists have never let me down.

When it’s time to hang the show, I finally get to be creative. I have to take into consideration where the best lighting is, which piece need to stand alone, or which is the most subtle and needs extra attention.

An opening reception at The George Gallery.

An opening reception at The George Gallery.

All of this planning, creating, promoting, etc., gets us to the wine drinking and chatting with friends. The process takes about 6-18 months on average. But it’s so worth it! I get to share the art that I love the most. The artist gets to show off his/her hard work, and hopefully you have also fallen in love, taken a piece home and will enjoy that work for many years to come.

—Anne Siegfried
guest blogger, Society 1858 Board Member and owner of The George Gallery

Interview with Renovation Project Managers Nick Cameron and Lauren Amos

This post was originally published on our renovation blog. All new renovation-related posts will be included on the Gibbes Museum blog.

How did you become involved with this project?

Nick – I first learned of the project from Museum Designer, Jeff Daly. I worked with Jeff for many years at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and subsequently, on a gallery renovation project at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. While working on the project in Indianapolis, Jeff talked extensively about the early planning on the Gibbes Renovation and made it seemed like a wonderful project. When the time came to hire an Owner’s Representative the Gibbes gave me the opportunity to interview for the position.

Lauren – I worked for Nick for a number of years at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. When Nick left the IMA and started his firm he offered me the chance to join him. I felt that working on this project as well as living in Charleston seemed like a perfect opportunity.

Gibbes Museum Renovation

Can you give us some behind the scenes glimpses of what’s happening right now with the renovations?

Currently there are major strides being made in the infrastructure of the building. A major part of the renovation is focused on bringing the mechanical systems up to standards and we are seeing a lot of ductwork being installed at the moment. The electrical and plumbing infrastructure is also progressing nicely. Of course the main visual difference that most people can see is the progress on the new addition. This week the structural steel that will support the third floor of the addition was completed and we are well on our way to having the shell of the addition complete soon.

Gibbes Museum Renovation

During the Gaillard renovation archaeologists found bones from 29 graves on the site, have you come across any unexpected discoveries at the Gibbes?

In the new lecture and reception area at the back of the building, work was being done in order to accommodate a new skyfold door. During some core drilling in this area, about 5 feet below the floor a total of 6 trolley track sets were found running in opposite directions. It is believed these were used to support the foundation of the original 1905 building.

Gibbes Museum Renovation

What aspect of the renovated museum do you think will have the biggest impact on the visitor’s experience?

Nick – I think the Lenhardt Garden will be a fantastic place for museum visitor’s to enjoy the outdoors. The plaster restoration work in the Rotunda and Main Gallery will excite the public by emphasizing the grandeur of the original architecture. The new gallery layout will enhance the flow through the permanent collection and special exhibitions. The new lighting systems will provide the visitor with a view of the collections never experienced before at the Gibbes.

Lenhardt Garden Rendering
Lenhardt Garden

Lauren – The redesigned “free” first floor will offer many amenities, like the café and working artist studios that will offer an elevated museum experience. I also feel like the expanded gallery space will allow for better display of the Gibbes Collection and will make it possible for the Gibbes to bring many high quality special exhibitions to Charleston.

What have you most enjoyed about living in Charleston?

Nick – This is a hard question to answer but between the charm of the city, the balmy southern weather, and the friendliness of the people I am enjoying living in Charleston very much.

Lauren – Growing up in Northeast Ohio and mainly living in the Midwest for the majority of my life, I have to say I enjoy the warmth the most but I also love living in a city with such historical significance.

Nick Cameron and Lauren Amos

Nicholas Cameron started NCMC following his departure from the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2013. His goal in starting a consulting firm was to put his extensive museum construction and operations experience to work. Cameron served as Chief Operating Officer of the IMA from 2010 to 2013. In his role at the IMA, Cameron led the construction and renovation efforts at the main museum building. Prior to joining the IMA, Cameron worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than 30 years, serving for 10 years as Vice President for Construction. While at The MET, Cameron successfully completed more than $850 million in construction projects over a 22-year period. Cameron holds an MBA from the University of Connecticut and a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University

Lauren Amos joined NCMC in 2013. In her role at NCMC, Amos serves as primary administrator in operational and financial matters. She also participates in the day to day Owner’s Representative and Consulting Services the firm provides its clients. Prior to joining NCMC, Amos was responsible for Operations at the Indinapolis Museum of Art. She worked directly with the security, facilities, events, retail, food service, and design departments. While at the IMA, she also served in key roles on many special projects including all activities at Westerley (Director’s residence), the partnership with the Indianapolis International Airport, and the collaboration with The Alexander Hotel.

Throughout her career, Amos has held operational and administrative positions at various consulting firms ranging from engineering, hospitality, finance, and human resources.

Amos received her BA from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Q&A with Evans & Schmidt architect Joe Schmidt

This post was originally published on our renovation blog in April 2015. All new renovation-related posts will be included on the Gibbes Museum blog.

Gibbes Museum Renovation
Joe Schmidt and colleague Rick Fisher at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Evans & Schmidt Architects has designed a wide range of projects since it was established in 1984. The primary focus, however, has remained unchanged over the past twenty-nine years. Evans & Schmidt Architects has openly embraced the challenge of targeting new and existing construction in the dense historic fabric of downtown Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry. These include private residences, corporate offices, retail, municipal buildings, as well as academic and performing arts projects. The firm has been the Architect of Record for the renovation and preservation of numerous properties individually registered as National Historic Landmarks. Joe Schmidt was kind enough to answer some questions about the museum renovations.

How did you become involved with this project?

In 2006, Angela Mack and I worked together on the renovation of City Hall. She coordinated the removal, off-site storage, and eventual return of City Hall’s permanent extensive art collection within the Council Chambers. Restoring the Council Chambers to its pre-1886 earthquake floor plan presented unique challenges as we sought to better showcase the art for all to enjoy while also maximizing the available seating space for the public wishing to attend council meetings. We also enhanced the environmental indoor control system to ensure the art is protected to the highest possible standards.

Describe your design process, for example, what specific challenges did this 100+ year old building pose?

The Gibbes was constructed very stoutly of solid masonry in 1905, but absolutely without any physical accommodation space for running any electrical piping or air conditioning. Consequently, as those necessities were added over the years, the ceilings were repeatedly lowered, which totally changed the character of its many spaces. The challenge was to selectively redesign and consolidate these modern day necessities, incorporate additional life safety features, and then restore as much of the original spatial character as possible.

How will the renovation change the visitor’s experience?

The original building was incredibly open, dependent entirely on natural light and a few gas light fixtures to illuminate the interior. Over the years, as more gallery hanging space became needed and exhibit layout fashions changed, the natural light was eventually blacked out entirely. Our hope is that future visitors will embrace the far brighter renovated spaces that better connect the indoor gallery spaces with the outdoor garden. Because of advancements in glass protected surfaces, the additional sunlight will not harm the artwork and sculpture on display.

What aspect of the renovated museum do you think will have the biggest impact on the visitor’s experience?

Being able to step through the front door and see clearly through the building all the way to the beautifully redesigned Lenhardt garden in the rear, then looking right or left and glimpsing for the first time ever the marble flanking staircases enticing you to venture upstairs. A physical visual relationship with the exterior is maintained at all levels, which is contributory in helping to lower stress and increase stamina.

Why is this project important to Charleston?

The renovation restores not only the façade, but encourages the public to once again freely walk down the 1905 hallways and observe active art studio work and classes taking place on a daily basis as was originally envisioned in 1905. This practice has been discontinued since the 1960s. The Gibbes Museum is one of Charleston’s preeminent cultural institutions and this renovation will ensure that the future needs of the museum are best addressed while restoring this 110 year old building as close as possible to its original condition and mission.

Can you give us some behind the scenes glimpses of what’s happening right now with the renovations?

The building has been undergoing extensive interior demolition work since December 2014. This includes the removal of added partitions and antiquated electrical utilities in careful preparation for the expansion of appreciably more spacious galleries and event spaces. This dismantling work will continue for several more months before any actual renovation work will be observable from the street. In the meantime, pilings have been driven for the new extension on the building’s south side to house a new first class art delivery and storage facility.

Lighting the Gibbes Museum: Q&A with Anita Jorgensen

This post was originally published on our renovation blog in June 2015. All new renovation-related posts will be included on the Gibbes Museum blog.

Anita Jorgensen, IESNA, IALD, LEED, LC has been practicing architectural lighting design in New York for over twenty years. Her background in art history and theatrical lighting design brings a strong sense of aesthetics and drama to her lighting approach. Her hands-on experience gained from extensive exhibition lighting design work translates into specifications for lighting systems which not only meet the immediate lighting requirements, but also provide for durability, ease of maintenance, and long term flexibility. Anita was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work with the Gibbes Museum renovation.

Preliminary Facade Lighting
Gibbes Museum of Art, Preliminary façade lighting

How did you learn about the Gibbes Museum?

I worked with Jeff Daly at The Metropolitan Museum for a number of years while he was the Head of the Department. When Jeff opened Jeff Daly Design, we worked on several projects together including: the Ringling Museum of Art; the annual Winter Antiques Show in New York; Rosecliff Mansion in Newport, RI; and others. In 2012 Jeff suggested I visit the Gibbes Museum and discuss its lighting needs with Angela Mack. Angela brought AJLD on board and I am happy to report that the Gibbes renovation has been a fabulous project with a fantastic team!

How did you get involved in lighting design? Give us a little information about what led you down this career path.

While studying Fine Arts and Art History in undergraduate school, I became aware of the work of renowned theatrical lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, who has designed for extensively for dance, drama and opera. Her work inspired me to pursue a career in theatrical lighting design. During my graduate studies at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, I became intrigued with the field of architectural lighting design. After five years with architectural lighting design firm Fisher Marantz Stone, who is best known for designing “Towers of Light” after the 911 twin towers incident, an opportunity arose to work as a lighting designer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Design Department that I could not pass up. The projects I was involved with at the Metropolitan ranged from temporary exhibitions, large-scale renovations of entire wings, extensive custom case work, as well as exterior façade lighting.

After working on staff at the Metropolitan for a number of years, I began my own practice, Anita Jorgensen Lighting Design (AJLD).

What are the challenges with lighting museums? Please give examples. How can good lighting transform museum space?

One of the great challenges of designing lighting for museums is balancing art conservation standards with visual clarity. Among the many aspects to consider are the control of daylight while balancing supplemental glare free electric light. When designing the new lighting system for the East Gallery at The Frick Collection, which included both daylight and electric light, we completed an extensive mockup process to determine the optimal method for controlling the quantity of daylight entering the galleries in combination with supplemental LED lighting to highlight the artwork. The mockup process gives the team an opportunity to actually see and test the results of our research findings. We did the same for the Gibbes Museum where we reviewed the ability of various lighting sources to render paintings accurately. During a side by side lighting comparison in the galleries, it was unanimously decided that the track mounted luminaires would use 3,000 Kelvin LED sources. LED lamps have the great advantage of emitting no ultra violet radiation, consuming only 10 watts each as opposed to 50 watts and last more than seven times longer than halogen.

The Frick Collection, East Gallery

Another important consideration when designing for museums are issues of conservation. For example all of the windows need to be properly fitted with screens and filtering film to reduce the level of light entering the galleries and to block the damaging ultraviolet portion of the incoming daylight.

The second source of illumination in galleries is typically a fully flexible overhead track lighting system which is often the primary source for lighting art. For the first time, the track lighting in the new Gibbes Museum renovation will be energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) track mounted luminaires. After all of the artwork is installed, the gallery lighting will go through a final fine-tuning process. During this stage, the exact lighting intensity levels for each object will be specified.

We also recently completed an exterior night-time lighting mockup for the garden where we reviewed lighting the garden with cool light mimicking moonlight vs. warm candle light effect. We also demonstrated illuminating the trees from below (uplighting) vs. locating lights up in the trees pointed downwards filtering through the leaves that created patterns of light on the ground much like the light coming from a full moon.

What can the community expect to ‘see’ with the renovated Gibbes?

The visitor will be able to see the fabulous Gibbes Museum art collection rendered in a crisp new glare-free light. The galleries will be brighter and more daylight will enter the building giving the visitor a greater connection to the outside.

Below is a listing of Anita’s more memorable projects:

The Frick Collection, East and West Galleries: designed a new lighting system that integrates invisibly with the museum’s landmark interiors

The Frick Collection, West Gallery

West Gallery, 2010 (new lighting installed)

Metropolitan Museum Great Hall: recreation of the original McKim Meade and White pendant

Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets: a conference center and trading floor

Original Cornerstone of the Gibbes Revealed

This post was originally published on our renovation blog in January 2015. All new renovation-related posts will be included on the Gibbes Museum blog.

1905 Masonic Ceremony for the Gibbes Museum of Art

The momentous Masonic ceremony, performed before a crowd of hundreds, was lost to history until 2005 when this photograph was brought to the museum by John Zacharias, great nephew to Harry T. Zacharias the contractor for the building. John found the photograph in his aunt’s house in Delaware and brought it to the Gibbes on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Gibbes opening.

Gibbes Museum Cornerstone

Contractors working on the renovation and expansion of the Gibbes Museum of Art on Meeting Street recently unearthed the building’s original cornerstone. First laid on December 8, 1903, in grand fashion by the Masons of Charleston, the cornerstone has been hidden from view for the last 111 years. According to newspaper articles from the date, a copper box containing a copy of James S. Gibbes last will and testament, 1902 proceedings of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, the 1902 Year Book of the City of Charleston, a copy of the News and Courier for December 8, 1903; and medals and other memorabilia contributed by ceremony participants is sealed within the inscribed stone.

The Secret Language of Cloth, an Interview with Susan Hull Walker

Susan Hull Walker, who founded ibu in 2013, studied World Religions at Harvard Divinity School and served for eighteen years as a minister in Maine, San Francisco, and Charleston, SC. When she returned to school to study Fiber Arts, she learned to weave and speak in the language of cloth. It opened her eyes to the very thing she had been looking for in her previous work – a woman’s way of recording her mind and soul. What she didn’t find in parchment and page, she found in textiles. A woman’s text. Walker is the featured speaker at the Gibbes October Art With a Twist event entitled, The Secret Language of Cloth and graciously agreed to share some of the meanings of cloth with us here.

Susan Hull Walker in her studio

Susan Hull Walker, ibu Founder

Amy: Susan, your upcoming talk is titled, “The Secret Language of Cloth.” Are you saying there is more to fabrics and cloth than meets the eye? Can you explain what that means?

Susan: Of course. In the middle ages, stripes were uncommon and disturbing to the eye – a striped garment moved in uncertain ways rather than waiting politely like a smooth, solid color. Which is how stripes came to be called The Devil’s Cloth and relegated to the edges of their society: worn by jesters, prostitutes, serfs, the condemned. Even in recent years, prisoners suit up in wide horizontal stripes against the vertical bars of their cell and form a visual grid, a cage, in which they live. The history of striped clothing is one fascinating skip through the western sartorial canon, all the way up to sailors, referees, and Picasso – all on the edge of their game.

In Eastern Europe, red embroidery long protected the vulnerable openings of neck and wrists where evil spirits might slip through, and is shaped into a beautiful armor of threads over the chest. A Pazyryk linen shift dating back to the 4th century, BC, has been found bound in red – embroidered with amulets, tokens of sacred power, to ward off the unworthy. Red thread, almost universally, denotes the vital flow of blood, life, passion and fertility, fierce against the dark powers that would diminish it.

IBU fabric

ibu fabric

On the Indonesian island of Sumba, only women of a certain mature age may go near the indigo dye bath, so potent is its power. Women over 50 have known the losses of this world and can bear the deep mysteries of the dye – a ‘blue art’ not suitable for women of a child-bearing age. Men are forbidden to go near it altogether. Indigo has its own secret society of the wise elders, strong and initiated.

Cloth is a trove of story and symbol. The creation of cloth consumed the vast majority of a woman’s time before the industrial revolution – cultivating flax, tending sheep, spinning yarn, dyeing, weaving, stitching, embellishing, piecing and repairing. And so it is saturated with the imagination of women in every step. Needle and thread form a kind of writing. Cloth reveals a secret language that opens to a curious mind.

It’s been my fascination to dive into these stories and try to decipher some of the most common motifs we see but no longer understand.

Why is the woven diamond pattern so universal and ancient – from Laos to Morocco to Guatemala?

Why the ubiquitous Tree of Life, the many shapes of sun, the fertile pomegranate?

Where do brides wear black? And why does a priest wear ‘a little house’? which is, after all, what a chasuble means . . .

Let’s explore more of these mysteries together. I look forward to translating with you the secret language of cloth.

Amy: Thanks so much Susan! We are looking forward to this event.

Susan Hull Walker founded the ibu movement, an enterprise aiding women artisans around the world by offering their hand-crafted textile wares for sale at a showroom on King Street and online. ibu, which means, a woman of respect in the Malay language, aims to continue the world’s great cultural languages in cloth and to empower the women who still carry these rich languages in their hands.

Art with a Twist: The Secret Language of Cloth with Susan Hull Walker 
Wednesday, October 21, 6pm
$20 Members, $30 Non Members
Location: Ibu, 183 King Street

1858 Prize Finalist Deborah Luster

Deborah Luster, a finalist for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, from New Orleans, Louisiana, investigates the violence of her home city through photographs. Her mother was a homicide victim, which has inspired Luster to photograph scenes of crimes as well as inmates in Louisiana prisons. Her two bodies of work, “One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana” and “Tooth for an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish,” grapple with death, violence, and the environments in which tragedies take place.

The photographs that compose “One Big Self” are held inside a black steel cabinet, from which viewers must open heavy drawers in order to see and touch the “invisible persons” that inhabit Lousiana’s prisons. On the back of each of the photographs in this collection is information concerning the inmates captured in each photograph, transforming these individuals into human beings rather than mere criminals. For the artist, “‘One Big Self’ is a document to ward off forgetting, an opportunity for those inmates to present themselves as they would be seen, bringing what they own or borrow or use: work tools, objects of their making, messages of their choosing, their bodies, themselves.” The photographs that make up this collection are intensely personal and moving, giving a social presence to those marginalized members of society that have committed acts of violence and are paying their dues.


One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, 1998-2003, Deborah Luster

In a city as vibrant and culturally diverse as New Orleans, violence is often overlooked, despite its huge presence in the community. “Tooth for an Eye” works to illustrate the themes of loss and remembrance that are central to everyday life in a city where “life and death coexist, neither free of the other’s influence.” The images of “Tooth for an Eye” are contained in ledgers, which are laid out on a sweet gum, hickory, and steel table, again requiring the viewer to touch and interact with the work. This hands-on experience gives a more emphatic significance to the Luster’s photographs, requiring viewers to face the violence and tragedy that the artist captures with her camera.

Deborah Luster

Tooth for an Eye, Ledger 06-16, by Deborah Luster
2008 – 2011


Location: 2400 Villere Street (St. Roch)

Date(s): January 10, 1993

January 18, 1993

June 13, 2009 1 a.m.

November 17, 2008

Name(s): Jermaine White (20)

Brother Emerson (17)

Leroy Harris ((19)

Kendrick Thomas (22)

Deborah Luster participated in the Irish Museum of Modern Arts 2014 Residency Programme in Dublin, after she was awarded a 2013 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work is currently on show in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, New Orleans Museum of Art, and other private and public collections. Read more about her life and work here.

1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art Unveiling Party
Thursday, September 17, 6pm
$25 Society 1858 Members, $35 Non-Members
Location: The Drawing Room at The Vendue, 19 Vendue Range

1858 Prize Dinner
Thursday, September 17, 7:30pm
$100 Society 1858 Members, $135 Non-Members
Location: The Gallery at The Vendue, 26 Vendue Range

For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit

India Dial, Marketing Intern, 2015

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